This was a good month of reading! I read fewer books than usual for a couple reasons. First, I am STILL listening to Spare. As I write this I still have 6.5 hours left, so I’ll have my review for you next month. Overall I am enjoying it but it’s really long, especially the war parts. (A friend recommended speeding up those parts — smart!). Second was Demon Copperhead. I finished that last night and it was hands down, my favorite book of 2023 so far. One of those beautiful, all encompassing books. Rough to read at times (there is a lot of trauma) but so worthwhile. The Ten Thousand Doors of January also took me a bit to get into but it was ultimately still very worth the read. What did you read this month? Give me your recommendations in the comments section!
PS – don’t forget about The Library, where you can sort and filter every book I’ve ever read by genre.
Everything I Read in January 2023
The Villa, by Rachel Hawkins
Ordering this one was a no brainer. I’ve always loved Rachel Hawkins’ books (she has such a great range and I especially love her thrillers!) AND it was the Bad on Paper pick and Becca (my friend/BoP co-host) told me she thought I would really love it, alluding to a narcissistic self-help influencer type. She was right – I loved it! It was the perfect treat book and a great way to start 2023 given that the last two books I’d read were of a more serious nature. This surrounds two best friends/frienemies. There is Chess (formerly Jessica), the influencer/self-help guru, for whom everything always seems to go right. And then there is Emily, a writer who is going through a horrible divorce after struggling with chronic illness, struggling to write her next book.
When Chess offers to take Emily to Italy for six weeks (where they’ll both get some writing done), Emily accepts. The only thing is that the villa has a bit of a sordid past. A horrible murder took place back in the seventies. Alternating between past and present, this one was super fun. You have beautiful Italy, frienemy drama, the sex/drug/rock’n’roll of the seventies, and a mystery. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. The ending didn’t quite do it for me which is the only reason why it gets an A- and not an A! Overall Score: A- // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Trust, by Hernan Diaz
This book was not on my radar until my book club decided to read it and I am so glad they chose it because a) it is amazing and so unique and b) I then saw it everywhere, including Obama’s book picks. This is one of those books where (and this is annoying as a prospective reader!) I can’t tell you very much about it because it will ruin it. But I want to gush to you about the last few chapters but will keep my mouth shut. I will tell you that it could be described as a jigsaw puzzle of a novel. It’s about money, but also: intimacy and relationships. And it made me feel a lot: it made me angry!!!
The book starts out in the roaring twenties of New York. Benjamin and Helen Rask are an infamous couple. He’s legendary on Wall Street, she’s the daughter of aristocrats. Together, they’re on top of a world that’s already excessive. Questions arise as to how they got this rich — and if Benjamin is responsible for the crash (and subsequent depression). This is all chronicled for the reader in Bonds, published in 1937. A book within a book! There are other versions of the story and we don’t know which one was true. All is revealed in the final chapter. This is SUCH a good book. I listened to it in audio form as it was sold out when I tried to order. I loved it. So smart and just brilliantly put together! Overall Score: A // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
This book came highly recommended by so many friends, but initially I wasn’t sure I could handle it. It’s really sad. There are content warnings for cancer, taking care of someone with cancer, a dying parent. On the first night I started it, I had a horrible dream where my mother died. But truly, the book is so worth reading. It’s beautifully written and will also make you very hungry.
Michelle writes about growing up (as one of the few Asian American kids) in Oregon, and her mother’s high expectations. I loved all of the parts about visiting her grandmother and aunts in Korea (it made me want to plan a trip!). And of course there are the more painful parts. Seeing her take care of her mother, watching her mother fade away, watching the Michelle and her father drift apart and fight… it’s really just an incredibly sad and vulnerable book (but so beautiful and unforgettable that it’s very much worth the read). I loved it. Overall Score: A+ // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Lobotomist’s Wife, by Samantha Greene Woodruff
I keep saying that I want to read more historical fiction and when I did my best books of 2022 post, a reader said that this was one of her favorite books of the year. I read this in two sittings, it was unputdownable. And slightly creepy but not as dark and disturbing as I can often go. Ruth Emeraldine is a wealthy New York socialite in post WWII New York. Her family owns the big hospital, and she serves as the assistant superintendent. She’s always been happy on her own, recognizing that her professional ambitions make her seem weird and out of place for her time. Her brother had died by suicide earlier and ever since then she’d dedicated her life to helping the mentally ill.
When she meets (and hires) Robert Apter, a brilliant doctor, she falls head over heels in love. Robert is supportive of her ambition and drive, and the two soon are married. When Robert pioneers a revolutionary new “miracle” procedure (the lobotomy), he is lauded as a genius. But he soon grows overly confident and negligent. Soon the lobotomy is being prescribed for things as minor as headaches or postpartum depression. Ruth realizes that she needs to stop him before it’s too late. This is a fun, easy read but one you’ll also learn something from it. (The book is inspired by real events and I really didn’t know much about earlier treatments of mental illness save for watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Overall Score: A- // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow
I read this book because a reader highly recommended it, saying it gave her Midnight Library vibes. And if you have been here a while, you know… that is one of my most favorite books. For the first 150 pages, I really struggled. A girlfriend told me to keep going, that it was worth the effort. And I am so happy that I did as I ended up really loving the book (gobbling up the last 210 pages in two sittings).
In the early 1900’s, January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke. Mr. Locke is a collector of curious objects; her father travels the world to help him add to his collections. January is insatiably curious, and finds herself in a predicament: both bored, and eager to explore the world on her own. When she finds a strange book in a hiding place, telling of secret doors (and a great love), her whole life changes.
Each page feels more impossible, more dangerous. The story she is reading entwines with her own. I won’t say any more than that but this is one of those books (once you get past the initial slog!) that leaves you with goosebumps, feeling like you just got home from an in incredible adventure. It had Midnight Library vibes mixed with just a little Cloud Cuckoo Land. Highly recommend. Overall Score: A // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
I felt stressed out for a lot of this book. There is a lot of trauma (drugs, death, addiction, abuse) but while the subject matter is dark, its endearing protagonist makes the book a page turner. My mom had read it and loved it, many of you had said it was your best book of 2022, and I had finished watching Dopesick a few weeks before. This is a tough book at times, but if I could give it an A++ I would. So far, it’s my favorite book of 2023.
Damon Copperhead is born to a junkie mother. By the time of his birth, his father is already dead. He is the boy that nobody wants. He finds himself orphaned and family-less, going from foster home to foster home, just trying to stay alive. The storyline follows Demon from childhood through young adulthood, through horrible loss after horrible loss, terrible and sometimes abusive foster homes, child labor, heartbreak, more death, disaster, and loss. In between that there are pockets of sunshine (his athletic success, his friendships, his wit and sense of humor) which makes the book a compulsive read: Damon/Demon’s voice is really just incredible. There is also a lot of good social commentary.
I think this would be a great book for book club as I think it would evoke some powerful discussions. It touches on or at least shows us how we treat rural people, what it is like for kids who have to grow up way too fast, and the way that institutional poverty affects children. And of course the pharmaceutical industry. Read this book, I loved it so much. Also now I kind of want to revisit David Copperfield (Dickens) now. I read it as a girl but it’s been a long time. Overall Score: A+ // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.